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The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

As an educator, I regularly notice that research supports universal good human values, such as the importance of fostering a caring environment for the development of children's social skills and behavior. Today, I will share another concept directly related to good human values but also supports the brain development of our children. Yes! It is about the brain-changing power of having conversations with children.

I believe that common sense tells us having regular conversations with our children is healthy for their overall development, including their social-emotional development. The research also supports this and tells us that the conversation with our children helps with their brain development.

Many of you might have heard about 30 million word gap already. It was a 1995 study that shows the huge gap between the number of words spoken in low socio-economic families and high socio-economic families. The study showed the words heard by a child from a high-income family within the first four years of their life revealed a 30 million word difference compared to a child from a low-income family. The study also showed that most of the interactions in low socio-economic families were directives rather than conversations. The study explains the linguistic/academic gap among children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

A recent study led by Harvard and MIT Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, with coauthors at both of those institutions and the University of Pennsylvania, also showed that the quality of words spoken to children was more important than the quantity of the words. The study explains this as follows:

“Specifically, after we equate for socioeconomic status, we find that the sheer number of words spoken by an adult was not related to children's neural processing of language, but that the number of conversational turns was. That neural response, in turn, predicted children's language skills. It really is the quality of language exposure that matters, over and above the quantity of words dumped onto a child.” 

An article by Bari Walsh explains the key takeaways for educators and parents from this study as follows:

  • From infancy, parents should look for chances to have conversations with their child — even if it's just responding to coos or gurgles. 

  • Conversational interplay between caregiver and child is enough to transform the biology of kids' brains. The quality of these exchanges is more important than the quantity of words children hear.

  • Conversation drives literacy skills and cognitive development across all socioeconomic levels, regardless parents' income or education. It's a powerful, actionable, and simple tool for all parents to use.

Again, this is research but don't you think it is also just a good human value to have meaningful and quality conversations with both children and anyone else. As an educator, I always see that there is a good correlation between our universal human values and what is right for our children! Maybe we should listen to our hearts as much as we follow research!

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